Monday, 30 November -0001

THE TWITS

With heavy padding and posh accents, the latest Roald Dahl adaptation is more misguided than revolting

Written by Georgina Brown
Georgina-Brown-colour-176‘What a lot of hairy-faced men there are around nowadays’ is the opening of beard-hater Roald Dahl’s The Twits. I too am an unrepentant ‘misopogon’ – neither on grounds of cleanliness, nor because men hide their true selves behind their bristles. I detest the way beard-wearers’ fingers are forever fondling and fiddling with their sleek or stubbly growth. Yuck.

Beard-bashing was the starting point of Dahl’s 1980 short, sharp morality tale, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading to my own little Dahlings when they were tots. It’s about a disgustingly dirty couple, Mr and Mrs Twit, made even uglier by their ugly behaviour, and it’s the latest of Dahl’s stories to be adapted for the stage, hot on the heels of a marvellous Matilda and an underwhelming Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.

Irish playwright Enda Walsh’s version has little of the revolting relish and none of the savage sadism of the original. Worse, he has padded the piece with a witless, wearisome episode of his own invention in which the Twits invite some fairground folk to their garden (it’s a scrapheap) party under the pretence that they are going to return the fairground they stole from them some years ago. Actually, all they want to do is torment the nicely named but barely characterised Tattooed Fortune Teller Lady, Handsome Waltzer Boy and Yorkshire Terrier Man with re-enactments of the humiliations the Twits forced them to endure.

The single striking idea in John Tiffany’s production has been to make the Twits posh, braying eccentrics. I had always imagined them to be the lowest of the low, possibly benefit scroungers. Jason Watkins and Monica Dolan gamely portray them as the kind of upper-class twits so unimaginative, thickskinned and disconnected from their fellow human beings that they don’t believe the conventional rules of good behaviour and common decency can possibly apply to them.

The only truly revolting thing about Watkins’s Mr Twit is his matted ginger beard, encrusted with gobbets of food. Monica Dolan is an extreme version of the Two Fat Ladies, minus their wit and wisdom. This prickly pair prefer to communicate with frying-pan blows. Mrs Twit serves her horrid husband spaghetti made of worms; Mr Twit retaliates by extending Mrs Twit’s walking stick so that his wife thinks she is suffering from ‘the shrinks’.

There’s some energetic monkey business from the Muggle-Wump family of Hobbitlike monkeys, imprisoned in a cage in the garden and forced to spend hours each day standing on their heads. The monkeys finally get their own back on the Twits. But not nearly soon enough for me and my Dahlings.

Until 31 May at the Royal Court Theatre, London SW1: 020-7565 5000, www.royalcourttheatre.com


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